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Chapter 3

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Bonapartes in America

by
Clarence Edward Macartney and Gordon Dorrance

published by
Dorrance and Company,
Philadelphia, 1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 5

p79 IV
Joseph Bonaparte at Bordentown


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Joseph Bonaparte

King of Naples and Spain, almost of Mexico

(From "The Napoleon Dynasty")

When he returned to Paris after the Russian campaign, Napoleon one day placed on the table a large map of the United States and said to his older brother, "Joseph, it is very probable that the time is not distant when you and I will be forced to seek an asylum in the United States. Come, let us look out the best spot."

The place they selected was the territory between the Delaware and Hudson Rivers in New Jersey. Within three years Napoleon was an exile at St. Helena and Joseph was living on the banks of the Delaware at Bordentown, New Jersey.

Napoleon once remarked, "I love no one; not even my own brothers." Then he added, "Joseph perhaps a little." Joseph Bonaparte, the eldest of the Bonaparte brothers, was born at Ajaccio, January 7, 1768, nineteen months before the birth of Napoleon. He was in school for a time at Autun in Burgundy, when Napoleon was at Brienne. Joseph claimed the credit of starting Napoleon on his brilliant career as an officer of artillery. It was in this wise. At an exhibition at his college Joseph acquitted himself with so much honor as to attract the attention of the Prince of Condé, the grandfather of the unfortunate Duke d'Enghien, who was to be put to death for alleged complicity in a plot against Napoleon's life. When the Prince of Condé asked Joseph p80about his ambitions and projects, the lad said that the Bishop of Autun had destined him for the Church and had a living in reserve for him, but that his own desire was to enter the army. When asked what branch of the service he would like to enter, Joseph replied, "The artillery." The Prince of Condé told him he should have his desire. Joseph then immediately wrote a letter to Napoleon telling him of his conversation with the Prince of Condé and begging him to give up his ambitions for the navy and devote himself to the artillery. "Napoleon," says Joseph, "immediately acceded to my proposal, abandoned from that moment all his naval projects and replied that his mind was made up to dedicate himself with me to the artillery, with what success, the world has since learned. Thus it was to this visit of the Prince of Condé that Napoleon owed his resolution of entering on a career which paved the way to all his honors."

At the head of the family, after the death of his father, Joseph thought it wise to study law. He attended lectures in the University at Pisa and returning to Corsica commenced the practice of law in Ajaccio. At this time he had much fellowship with Napoleon who was on a visit to his home. Napoleon was then occupied in writing an essay on the subject, "What are the Opinions and the Feelings with which it is Necessary to Inspire Men for the Promotion of Their Happiness?" "This," says Joseph, "was the subject of our conversations in our daily walks which were prolonged by the banks of the sea; in sauntering along the shores of a gulf which was as beautiful as that of Naples, in a p81country fragrant with the exhalations of myrtles and oranges. We sometimes did not return home until night had closed over us. There will be found in what remains of this essay the opinions and the characteristic traits of Napoleon, who united in his character qualities which seemed to be contradictory — the calm of reason, illumined with the flashes of an oriental imagination; kindliness of soul, exquisite sensibility, precious qualities which he subsequently deemed it his duty to conceal under an artificial character which he studied to assume when he attained power, saying that men must be governed by one who is fair and just as law, and not by a prince whose amiability might be regarded as weakness, when that amiability is not controlled by the most inflexible justice. His heart throbbed at the idea of a grand and noble action which posterity could appreciate."1

With the rise of his brother Napoleon to power in France, Joseph became prominent in the field of diplomacy. He was appointed Ambassador to the Court of Parma and then to Rome. In 1800 he concluded at Mortefontaine a Treaty with the United States which put an end to the serious situation which had existed for a number of years between France and the United States and had brought about, although without an actual declaration of war, hostilities on the ocean between the two nations. In 1801 Joseph negotiated a Treaty of Peace with Austria after the victories at p82Marengo and Hohenlinden. In 1802 he was the representative of France at the Congress of Amiens, where, with Lord Cornwallis as the British envoy, peace was signed between England and France.

In 1806 Napoleon made Joseph King of Naples. One day, wandering over the ruins of Cumae, Joseph reflected with himself, "Thus too, in the revolution of centuries, the monuments of the Emperor Napoleon will be buried."

Joseph like Napoleon was a friend of the philosophers. In the preface of one of the editions of St. Pierre's immortal romance of "Paul and Virginia," St. Pierre pays this tribute to Joseph: "About a year and a half ago I was invited by one of the subscribers to the fine edition of 'Paul and Virginia' to come and see him at his country house. He was a young father of a family whose physiognomy announced the qualities of his mind. He united in himself everything which distinguishes a son, a brother, a husband, a father and a friend to humanity. He took me in private and said, 'My fortune which I owe to the nation affords me the means of being useful. Add to my happiness by giving me an opportunity of contributing to your own.' This philosopher, so worthy of a throne, if any throne was worthy of him, was Prince Joseph Bonaparte."

When Napoleon determined to dethrone the Spanish Bourbons in 1808, he issued a decree proclaiming Joseph King of Spain and the Indies, and guaranteeing his kingdom and dominion in the four quarters of the world. Napoleon had assigned Joseph an impossible task. He had to contend first of all with the resentment p83and fury of the Spanish populace, and on the other hand with the British army under the capable leadership of the Duke of Wellington. After Wellington's victory at Vitoria, June 21, 1813, Joseph was compelled to flee the country. Thus came to an end his reign as King of Spain and the far‑flung Indies.

In the disastrous campaign of 1814 Napoleon made Joseph Lieutenant-General of the Empire and placed him at the head of the Council of Regency to assist the Empress Regent, Maria Louisa. During the Hundred Days, which he helped to finance with much of his own wealth, Joseph returned from Switzerland and joined the Emperor at Paris. After Waterloo he went to Rochefort where Napoleon was, and did all he could to persuade Napoleon to attempt an escape to the United States. Since he closely resembled the Emperor, he proposed that they exchange passports, thinking that in this way there would be less likelihood of Napoleon being captured. After the Emperor decided to cast himself on the mercies of the English and boarded the Bellerophon, refusing to escape in his brother's place, Joseph, under the name of M. Bouchard, embarked for the United States on board the American ship Commerce. Several times the ship was halted by British cruisers. Even when the Commerce was approaching the harbor of New York she was pursued by two British cruisers, but by a favourable winds, and the skill of her pilot, she managed to escape.

The other passengers on the ship thought that M. Bouchard was the famous General Carnot. Joseph landed at New York on the 28th of August, 1815. The p84Mayor of New York, supposing that he was Carnot, came to pay him his respects. He said to him,

"You are not simply M. Bouchard."

"No."

"Nor General Carnot?"

"Nor General Carnot."

"Then may I inquire under what title you do pass?"

"I pass under the title of the Count de Survilliers. But here in America I believe I may safely avow the truth. I am Joseph Bonaparte."

When Joseph asked for rooms at the City Hotel, the manager told him that he had given the last suite of rooms to Henry Clay, who had just returned from Europe as one of the American envoys to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent. Hearing that Joseph Bonaparte was at the hotel, Clay at once called upon him, and bringing him to his dining room, said to him, "And here is a dinner ready for yourself and your suite." Joseph accepted Clay's generous hospitality, and thus began a pleasant friendship between the two men. For a time Joseph occupied a mansion overlooking the Hudson, since known to thousands of diners as the Claremont Inn. A few days after Joseph landed in New York, passersby on lower Broadway stopped to watch a man who threw himself on his knees, with tears pouring down his cheeks, before a stout elderly gentleman who tried in vain to raise him and to calm his emotions. An old soldier of Napoleon had recognized the Count de Survilliers as Joseph, King of Spain.

Joseph now began to look about for a permanent residence. He first took a house at 260 South Ninth p85Street, Philadelphia. This house is still standing. From there he removed to "Lansdowne" in Fairmount Park, one time residence of John Penn, last Colonial Governor of Pennsylvania. "Horticultural Hall" in Fairmount Park, of Centennial Exposition fame, now stands on the site of "Lansdowne." An avenue of trees led up to the mansion at which Washington, Adams, Jefferson and others of note had often visited. "Lansdowne" had been occupied before Joseph's visit by Edmond Randolph, Attorney General of the United States. Here Joseph gave his greatest and possibly his only "entertainment of state" in Pennsylvania. To a lawn fete at "Lansdowne" in the summer of 1817 came the celebrities, the beaux and belles of Philadelphia and many miles about. Joseph was easily the center of attraction where he stood on the open greensward before the house. Those who saw him that day proclaimed his resemblance to "an English gentleman farmer."


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Joseph's Philadelphia Home

Sign at left of gate, 260 South Ninth Street, says:

"Joseph Bonaparte Rented this House for Two Years. Built 1812"

(Phila. Public Ledger Photo)

After Joseph left the mansion later that year, it remained untenanted and not long afterwards was burned during a fireworks exhibition. The property was bought by citizens and sold to Philadelphia in 1866 for $85,000, when it was incorporated in Fairmount Park and the ruins razed by the Commissioners of the Park.

Desiring greater privacy than was possible at Philadelphia, Joseph purchased "Point Breeze" at Bordentown, New Jersey, from Stephen Sayre for the sum of $17,500. The estate of some 211 acres eventually expanded to one of 1,800 acres. The Legislature of New Jersey passed a special act — 1817 — enabling Joseph as a foreigner to hold property in his own name. Joseph p86lived in the United States under the title of the Count de Survilliers, the name of a village on his estate in France. He was joined at Bordentown by his two daughters, Zenaide and Charlotte, but his wife dreaded the ocean voyage and never came to America. She was Julie-Marie Clary, daughter of a wealthy merchant of Marseilles. Her sister, Eugenie, to whom Napoleon was at one time much attached, afterwards married General Bernadotte who became a Marshal of France, subsequently the King of Sweden and Norway, and the founder of the present royal house of Sweden. At the time of Napoleon's marriage to Josephine in 1796, Joseph was greatly disappointed that his brother had not married his wife's sister. "Thus vanished," wrote Joseph, "the hope which your wife and I had cherished for several years of seeing her younger sister, Eugenie, united in marriage with my brother Napoleon. Time and separation disposed of the event otherwise." Eugenie's resentment toward Napoleon for passing her by for Josephine is said to have played a part in the future hostile conduct of Bernadotte, who was not able to forget that Napoleon had once won the love of his wife.

On a spring day in 1816, Dr. William Burns, who had been a surgeon in the British army in the Revolutionary War, and who afterwards settled at Bordentown, was returning from White Hill when he was accosted by two gentlemen riding in a carriage. They made inquiry as to properties that were for sale in the neighborhood. Dr. Burns knew that Stephen Sayre desired to dispose of Point Breeze and drove with the two strangers to p87view the estate. One of the gentlemen was Joseph Bonaparte, and the other his American interpreter, James Carret. On August 27, 1816, James Carret took title to the property as agent for Joseph Bonaparte.

At that time Bordentown was an important link in the route of travel from New York to Philadelphia. Passengers for Philadelphia left the boat at Amboy and drove thence to Bordentown, where they took the boat again down the Delaware to Philadelphia. Bordentown was for a time the residence of Tom Paine, who said, "I had rather see my horse Button eating the grass of Bordentown than see all the pomp and show of Europe." It was at Bordentown that Paine constructed the model of his iron bridge.


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The First "Point Breeze"
Mansion and Park, from a Hill

(From "Bonaparte's Park, and the Murats")

The park at Point Breeze was laid out in the style of the Escurial grounds and was traversed by twelve miles of drives and bridle paths, "winding through clustering pines and oaks and planted on every knoll with statuary. Rustic cots or rain shelters, bowers and seats, sheltered springs and solitary retreats were interspersed." One of the small streams had been dammed to form a lake two hundred yards broad and half a mile long. The lake was dotted with little islands, and swans floated on the surface of the water. In the summer time the lake was covered with fleets of pleasure boats.

Not far from Joseph's house was the white house with green shutters, the residence of Joseph's daughter, Zenaide, and her husband Prince Charles Lucien Bonaparte, the son of Joseph's brother. Joseph constructed an underground passage so that they could pass to and fro without p88being subjected to the inclemency of the weather. Princess Caroline Murat, daughter of Joseph's nephew, Lucien Charles Murat, writing in 1902, thus remembers Point Breeze: "As an old woman, I look back through the long vista of years, and although I have seen many beautiful estates in Europe, I have seen nothing on this side of the Atlantic that compares to Point Breeze."

When he took possession of his New Jersey estate Joseph was forty-eight years of age. In person he closely resembled Napoleon, although he was taller and less stout than his brother. He had the fair, smooth, woman-like complexion which marked all the Bonapartes. His manners were elegant and he was, like all the Bonapartes, fond of the company of women. Visitors to Point Breeze relate how Joseph delighted to take them on a tour of his mansion. In a secret hidden cabinet in his library he kept a splendid collection of jewels. There, too, could be seen the crown and rings he wore when King of Spain. The art gallery had a notable collection of paintings with masterpieces by Teniers, Bassano, Bidault, Vernet and Rubens. The most valuable of the paintings, however, was the "Nativity of our Saviour" by Raphael Mengs. This painting had been executed as an altar piece for one of the kings of Spain. Among the paintings that hung on the walls of Joseph's mansion was a copy of David's celebrated "Passage of the Alps."

One of the visitors to Point Breeze gives this amusing account of how Joseph took her one day into his private apartments: "The curtains, canopy and furniture were p89of light blue satin, trimmed with silver. Every room contained a mirror, reaching from the ceiling to the floor. Over the bed hung a splendid mirror and also one over the table. The walls were covered with oil paintings, principally of young females, with less clothing about them than they or you would have found comfortable in our cold climate, and much less than we found agreeable when the Count without ceremony led us before them and enumerated the beauties of the paintings with the air of an accomplished amateur. In every room of the house there were statues of Napoleon in different positions and in various sizes. There were also statues of his father and mother and all the family. To the statue of Pauline, in particular, the Count called our attention and asked us to admire it. He stood some time perfectly enraptured before it, pointing out to us what a beautiful head Pauline had, what hair, what eyes, nose, mouth, chin, what a throat, what a neck, what arms, what a magnificent bust, what a foot, enumerating all her charms, one after another, and demanding our opinion of them. Necessity made us philosophers, and we were obliged to show as much sang-froid on the subject as himself, for it was impossible to get him away without our prudery exciting more attention than would have been pleasant. When the Count was satisfied with the eulogiums we bestowed upon his fair sister, he led us on, remarking as we turned away from the statue: 'Ah, she was very beautiful, very beautiful was Pauline, but too ambitious, nothing could satisfy her. She always felt as if my poor brother was p90robbing her of a kingdom instead of bestowing one upon her; but she was so beautiful."

Joseph was an early riser. He had coffee and toast served in his room at seven o'clock. He was engaged until eleven in his library, writing and reading, when he had breakfast with his friends. After that he went over the grounds of the estate. Luncheon was at two, dinner at eight, and supper at ten. The two princesses, Zenaide and Charlotte, were generally with him; also some of the Murat family. A sixteen‑oar barge presented to Joseph by Stephen Girard brought his guests up or down the Delaware River from Philadelphia, Trenton, and other nearby towns. Among Joseph's American friends were Daniel Webster, John Quincy Adams, Admiral Charles Stewart, Richard Stockton, General Thomas Cadwalader, and Joseph Hopkinson, of Bordentown, the author of "Hail Columbia."

Joseph had a keen sense of humor. He had once conducted through his art gallery the ladies of a family that resided in the neighborhood of the Park: "Sometime afterwards, upon due notice, to the wonder of the neighbors and consternation of the family, the Count with his whole household and retinue in several carriages returned the visit. A super-cargo in the East India trade had presented to the family a full-sized bust of Helena, which stood on a pedestal in the dining room. One of the ladies of the family very carefully covered the breast up with a light shawl and invited the Count and his party into their "statue gallery" to view it, which caused much merriment, the Count enjoying the hit heartily."

p91 The first and the most elaborate mansion built by Joseph was destroyed by fire in January, 1820. A guest at the mansion had gone off to Philadelphia and left a wood fire burning in his bed chamber, taking the key to the room with him. Through William Snowden, Joseph addressed a letter to the citizens of Bordentown thanking them for their zeal in saving valuable statues, paintings, plate, and books from the conflagration. He said: "This event has proved to me how much the inhabitants of Bordentown appreciate the interest I have always felt for them, and shows that men, in general, are good, when they have not been perverted in their youth by a bad education; when they maintain their dignity as men, and feel that true greatness is in the soul and depends upon ourselves. I cannot omit on this occasion what I have said so often, that the Americans are, without contradiction, the most happy people I have known; still more happy if they understand well their own happiness."

Joseph himself consistently was the good neighbor to his friends of Bordentown. He ministered to their material needs and comforts, even of that extent of "making" work for them to do, such as unnecessary landscaping and woodchopping. He was popular, deservedly.

Joseph willed Point Breeze to his grandson Joseph, the son of Charles Lucien Bonaparte and his daughter Zenaide. In 1847 the Prince sold Point Breeze to Thomas Richards of Philadelphia, who in turn sold it in 1850 to Henry Beckett. Beckett razed the Bonaparte mansion.

There recently appeared in the press the headline, p92"Bonaparte Estate Sold for $200 on New Jersey Court Order." By this sale, a place that had cost Joseph and succeeding holders about one million dollars was disposed of for a couple of hundred; but alas, there was also a Court decree for almost $135,000 and an alleged item of unpaid taxes. The place was bid in, and what its next incarnation will be we do not know. It latest owner, who bought it in 1912, was the son of a famous international engineer. It is not the house that was built and occupied by Joseph, nor is the present place an extraordinary one in appearance, though it and the grounds surrounding it very possibly represent to three men a million at the least, over $300,000 to Joseph alone. Yet for its rare associations and native beauty, Bonaparte Park today is one of the most to be desired country seats in America.

Here lived on a slightly different building site and a hundred years ago, Joseph and the young Princess Zenaide, who married Cousin Charles Lucien Bonaparte. The main buildings of Joseph, which were burned, stood on a hundred-foot bluff at the junction of the Delaware River and Crosswicks Creek. It was to this tidewater creek that the famous and largely misunderstood upper tunnel led — a tunnel which was more for his daughter's convenience than his own in going from one house to another, thence if desired to a dock at the water-side. Many thought it was used by the Bonapartes to bury treasure; in the past century there have been treasure hunters but no treasure there, where begins open water reaching to France itself.

The present place was built the middle of the last p93century by Henry Beckett, who though English by birth was a long-time resident of the United States, a son of the British consul in Philadelphia, and the husband of a Philadelphia girl. He built well from the standpoint of longevity, because the house still stands, though it was much improved by the last owner, who added to its size and appurtenances.

To visit Bonaparte Park today you will need to get permission from the caretaker, but first you may drive to picturesque old Bordentown. You enter the town from the south, passing on the right the Bordentown Military Institute. The town and Bonaparte Park are off the main highway now, a quiet village backwater, past which, a scant mile to the east, modern traffic passes Joseph's door. If you would like to see what Bonaparte Park looks like today — this house and estate that brought just $200 (plus mortgage) in 1937 — drive by a circuitous road to the house which stands back from the road. Two vast boxwoods which, one on each side, guard the entrance of the new house, were planted by Joseph, builder of the old, and later Beckett built where Joseph planted. The present place is a hundred yards or so from the Joseph site itself, that much farther from Crosswicks Creek, and so much nearer the highway.

If you enter the house today you will find a vast pile which only a rich man could support. There are approximately thirty rooms including ten for servants, seventeen fireplaces, which are located even in the bathrooms; there is a lady's bath in pink marble, a $30,000 p94bathroom with octagonal walls and a pink marble tub. In 1935 the furniture was removed, so today all that the large library holds is shelves; all that the rooms contain, crystal electroliers and fixtures. There is a master's bedroom, a tremendous drawing room, a splendid staircase. In the center of the house is a dome with illumination from the sky itself. This three-storied rotunda makes a well of light today in the dark old shuttered home. Vacant as it is, there is nothing left to see save two Carrara chimney-pieces, carved in colored marble with cherubs and other figures, and supposedly worth $50,000. These were given Joseph by his uncle Cardinal Fesch, and are the only original objects to remain from Joseph's day.

From the roof you can see the Delaware River, and Trenton six miles to the north. You can also see the blue swimming pool thirteen feet deep, painted the blue of Naples, devised for filtered water but filled now with dead leaves. There is a boxwood hedge from the house to the pool and all around the house, a rose garden, a small pool, a larger lake with a quarry effect. A rock garden was started, and there are two great greenhouses and a tennis court. The house still stands in the midst of a wooded park, nearly two hundred and fifty acres in all, one hundred about the house itself. Possibly $300,000 more has been spent in the last generation on this stucco-over‑brick house with its flat roof, two stories on one side and three stories on the other, with its brick walks set in concrete, its frigidaire, wine-cellar, and oil burners, its $16,000 summer house with openwork sides of hand-wrought iron — this house p95which, nearly a century old, has been remodeled periodically and has little in it of Joseph. Nevertheless on the grounds and at the gate there is an old house also of stuccoed brick hand which dates from Joseph's day. The woods too are much the same. There are trees of beech, oak, tulip poplar, birch and hemlock, many of which must have stood in Joseph's time, and there are beautiful specimens of cherry, dogwood, magnolia and rhododendron. The trees alone may have been seen by Joseph — silent witnesses of the day when kings and princes were "Jerseyites," and Jerseyites found them good neighbors.

Wherever Joseph went and built him a home there was hunting, and even today pheasants and rabbits abound in the woods which border the park along the mile and a quarter stretch of highway marking its eastern boundary. The tidal waters of Crosswicks Creek and the railroad tracks beyond are to the west, and it is pointing in this direction that we still find about forty feet of open brick tunnel, a well-built tunnel too and worthy of a king's masons.

As such stands Bonaparte Park today, waiting for another rich man not without his riches, or another uncrowned country and with only an ex‑king's customary wealth remaining to him. All is not lost by kingship while honor or an honorarium remains, as it usually does.

During the first part of his stay at Bordentown, Joseph had his town house in Philadelphia at 260 South Ninth Street. This was an old‑fashioned Philadelphia dwelling with high-ceilinged rooms, a basement kitchen p96and a lawn. Now, if you visit it, you will see a place in good repair, but you will spend a moment or two working the latch before you can open the iron gate. Behind the slatted blinds of this town house Joseph entertained his American and his French friends. The only relics of his stay at the Ninth Street house are an old sideboard and some canvases brought from France. Joseph also resided in a house at the southeast corner of Eleventh and Market Streets, and which afterwards became the Bingham Hotel. It was in this house that Joseph's grandson, Joseph Lucien Charles Napoleon, son of Charles Lucien and of Joseph's daughter, Zenaide, was born February 13, 1824. This was the first legitimate Bonapartist birth in the United States.

One of Joseph's principal Philadelphia friends was Stephen Girard, the famous merchant and founder of Girard College. Girard was Joseph's banker. He purchased his wines for him, bought lumber for his building operations at Bordentown, and advised him as to wages to be paid the laborers. Joseph Bonaparte asked Girard to buy his French estate, "Mortefontaine." In regard to this offer Girard said to the Baring Brothers, "It does not suit me to figure as a great land owner in a country to which I shall never go, and under government hostile to Republicans."

The Sunday Dispatch of Philadelphia, of January 28, 1877, contains the following interesting account of an attempt made by Joseph to purchase a block of real estate from Stephen Girard: "One day at a dinner given to Girard by the Count de Survilliers — which was the ex‑King's title in this country — the subject was broached p97and the Count offered to pay Girard any fair price he would ask. Girard said, 'Well, now, what will you give? What do you consider a fair price?' 'I'll tell you,' said the Count, 'I will cover the block from Eleventh to Twelfth, and from Chestnut to Market streets, with silver half dollars!' Girard, who was sipping his soup at the time, balanced his spoon for a second on the end of his finger, and, with a calculating look out of his one eye, said very slowly, 'Yes, Monsieur le Comte — if you will stand them up edgeways.' Needless to say, this bargain was not closed. Girard did indeed set a high value on the property, for by his will he directed that the College afterwards erected where it now stands, in the northern section of the city, should be built in the centre of this square."

Though most intimate with Stephen Girard, with whom he often dined, supped and visited, Joseph had certain good Philadelphia friends, four of whom — including Joseph Hopkinson — he was to mention in his last will and testament. Another warm friend was General Thomas Cadwalader, and there were others, though Joseph's Philadelphia acquaintance was notable for its careful selection more than its size, and characterized by friendship rather than society. He was known to many children, however, who never failed to point him out as "the good Mr. Bonaparte."

In discussing Joseph's will, mention should be made of a mysterious bequest of ten thousand dollars, to be dispensed and disposed of by the faithful Mailliard. According to a long ago writer in the Newark Advertiser, "This ten thousand dollars was designed to be and p98was paid over for the benefit of the offspring of Joseph Bonaparte by a Miss Savage." The same writer denies that "Joseph was a Saint," and titles his contribution to the Advertiser, "Left-Handed Marriage at Bordentown." Morganatic, "left-handed," or otherwise irregular, it seems sufficiently clear that Joseph had made himself at home in the New World as Bonapartes did in the Old, from time to time.

Julie-Marie, Queen of Naples and Spain, Joseph's good and gentle wife, never had joined him in America, and they were destined not to meet again until Joseph had returned to her on the other side. Julie faithfully if fearfully had intended to make the westward crossing in 1817, but physicians forbade the long, hard sea trip, as it certainly was at that time, and she never afterward was able to make the attempt successfully. In her place, then, came to Joseph the fair Annette Savage, American, and of all things, Quaker. The matter is well described, if naively, by a native son of those sections frequented by Joseph: "It is generally known that Joseph's wife did not accompany him to America, but he took for his American wife a Quakeress named Savage, and to them was born a daughter. It was characteristic of the Bonapartes to have a wife in every country where they spent much time." It would not be as difficult as it might be unfair to give further vital statistics in support of the above, but it does seem clear that the seed of Joseph and Annette did grow to maturity, did flourish, did marry and have other descendants of this long ago American mating, descendants who have led quiet, useful and respected lives in memory of p99a king who, like many such, was first a man, and of his pretty Quaker consort.

Joseph's home at Bordentown became the center for French refugees who had come to America after Waterloo. In the Point Breeze mansion Marshal Grouchy, the Lallemand brothers, Clausel, Bernard, Lefebvre-Desnouettes, and other famous French officers were frequently to be seen. There they renewed their great memories of the past and planned and plotted for the future.

In the month of July, 1830, when Joseph was on his way to Saratoga, travelling on the steamer Lady Clinton, an old grenadier of Napoleon, hearing Joseph and his secretary Louis Mailliard speaking French, came up to them and, giving a military salute, asked if they had seen a little French woman whom he had lost on the preceding evening. Joseph asked him how long he had been in America. The grenadier replied that he had just come from France, and was on his way to ask King Joseph for a farm, for he had heard that Joseph gave farms to all soldiers of the Emperor who made application to him. Joseph spoke of the great hardships in pioneer farming, and wondered if the grenadier, at his age, would be fit for it. The old soldier told him that he had earned his living by sawing trees and that he had no doubt as to his ability to run a farm in the American wilderness. He went on to say that he had been one of the Six Hundred who had accompanied the Emperor to Elba and had returned with him on the brig Inconstant. After the disaster at Waterloo he had managed to save his Cross, his Eagle, and his Diploma p100of the Legion of Honor — in proof of this he removed his hat and drew from it those treasured relics of the Empire.

After hearing his story, Joseph told him that he would not find King Joseph at Bordentown, as he was absent and would not return for some time. The old soldier showing great distress at this, Joseph told Mailliard to give him twenty dollars. When he did so, he told him that he had been talking with none other than King Joseph himself. At that the old veteran fell at the feet of Joseph and covered them with kisses.2

Joseph was a good liver and liked gay company. In his "Life and Letters of Fitz-Greene Halleck," General Wilson relates what Halleck told him of a wedding in New York at which Joseph was present:

"This story was followed by an account of the wedding party of a member of the Bonaparte circle at Villegrand's, in Warren Street, New York. Halleck was the only American present, all the others being French. Among the company was Count Survilliers, the title assumed in this country by Joseph Bonaparte; Marshal Grouchy, who, according to the ex‑king's testimony, said Halleck, 'was not a traitor to Napoleon;' Generals Renaud, St. Jean d'Angely, Van Dam, Desnouettes, Lallemand, and other expatriated followers of the emperor, who sought a refuge in the United States. The count talked to Halleck on this and other occasions without reserve, referring to his former situations as 'Quand j'étais roi d'Espagne,' or 'Dans mes p101belles affaires.' In the course of the evening the party became quite hilarious, and enjoyed themselves as no other men on the face of the earth but Frenchmen could have under similar circumstances. The ex‑king made a trumpet of a newspaper, and blew it vigorously; the marshal sang songs, all present joining in the chorus; the famous cavalry leader, Lallemand, jumped about on all fours, with a four-year‑old boy on his back; while another Waterloo general gave laughable imitations of a stuttering French soldier, and other comicalities. They romped and played like children, and although some of the party were old, others elderly, they were all full of youthful spirit. Halleck modestly refrained from stating in what manner he contributed to the enjoyment of the evening, which he characterized as the 'raciest and most amusing night I ever passed.' "3

When Joseph was at Bordentown a deputation from Mexico, then in revolt against Spain, came to offer him the Mexican crown. Joseph made this answer to the deputation: "I have worn two crowns; I would not take a step to wear a third. Nothing can gratify me more than to see men who would not recognize my authority when I was at Madrid now come to seek me in exile; but I do not think that the throne you wish to raise again can make you happy. Every day I pass in this hospitable land proves more clearly to me the excellence of the Republican institutions for America. Keep them as a precious gift from Heaven; settle your internal commotions; follow the example of the United p102States and seek among your fellow citizens a man more capable than I am of acting the great part of Washington."4

When Napoleon heard of this proposal at St. Helena he made the following comment: "Joseph will refuse. He is too fond of the pleasures of life to bother himself again with the burden of a crown; and yet it would be a stroke of luck for England that the whole problem of Spanish-America should be solved in this way, for if Joseph were to become King of Mexico, a breach with France and Spain would be inevitable. For myself, his acquiescence would be weighted with consequences. He loves me and would use his position as a weapon to coerce England into treating me differently. Unfortunately, he will refuse."

James K. Paulding, Secretary of the Navy under Van Buren, litterateur and follower of Irving, relates an interview he had with Lafayette at a dinner in New York in 1824. At this dinner Lafayette referred to the political parties in France and spoke of the "Orleans party," "to which I belong." Joseph Bonaparte got word of this meeting and conversation between Lafayette and Paulding, and went to call on the latter. He told him of what Lafayette had said when he visited him at Bordentown in 1824. "The Bourbon dynasty," said Lafayette to Joseph, "cannot last. It too openly wounds the national feeling. In France we are all persuaded that the son of the Emperor alone can represent all the interests of the Revolution. Place two millions p103at the disposal of our committee, and I promise you that with this sum in two years Napoleon II will be on the throne of France."5

Joseph declined the proposal, partly because he did not think the Revolution was so near, and partly because he could not afford the sum which Lafayette named. "It seems, however," said Joseph to Paulding, "that at the moment he was announcing to the people of the United States that he was a Republican, and at your brother's table that he was an adherent of the Duke of Orleans, he made me an offer of placing my nephew on the throne of France for two million francs. I have long believed Lafayette devoid of faith, and now I am satisfied."

When Joseph heard of the revolution of 1830, that the Duke of Orleans, Louis Philippe, had been put on the throne, and that Lafayette had used his influence to that end, he addressed to Lafayette a letter in which he reminded him of their conversation of six years before. "You will recall," wrote Joseph, "our interview in this hospitable and free land. My sentiments are as invariable as yours and those of my family. Everything for the French people. Doubtless I cannot forget that my nephew, Napoleon II, was proclaimed by the Chamber which in 1815 was dissolved by the bayonets of foreigners. I ask for the abolition of that tyrannic law which has shut out from France a family which had opened the kingdom to all those Frenchmen whom the Revolution had expelled. Adieu, my dear General. p104My letter proves to you the justice I rendered to the sentiments you expressed to me during the triumphant journey you made among this people, where I have seen for fifteen years that liberty is not a chimera, that it is a blessing which a nation, moderate and wise, can enjoy when it wishes."6

In explaining to Joseph the part he had taken in putting the Duke of Orleans upon the throne of France, Lafayette wrote to him: "You know that in home affairs as foreign affairs no one can do just what he wishes to have done. Your incomparable brother, with his power, his character, his genius, experienced this himself." Lafayette then went on to express his disapproval of the dictatorship of Napoleon and of the aristocracy which he had introduced.

To this Joseph replied from Point Breeze, under date of January 15, 1831: "Napoleon never doubted your good intentions; but he thought that you judged too favourably of your contemporaries. He was forced into war by the English, and into the dictatorship by the war. These few words are the history of the Empire. Napoleon incessantly said to me, 'When will peace arrive? Then only can I satisfy all and show myself as I am.' The aristocracy of which you accuse him was only the mode of placing himself in harmony with Europe. But the old feudal aristocracy was never in his favor. The proof of this is that he was its victim and that he expiated at St. Helena the crime of having wished to employ all the institutions in favor of the people; and p105the European aristocracy contrived to turn against him even those very masses for whose benefit he was laboring."7

In February, 1832, Joseph wrote from Point Breeze to his nephew, Napoleon's son, the King of Rome, a letter in which he urged him to claim his right as Emperor of France: "Let his Imperial Majesty (the Emperor of Austria) consent to entrust you to my care. Let him send me a passport that I may come to him, and to you. I will quit my retreat to respond to his confidence, to yours, to the sentiment which commands me to spare no efforts to restore to the love of the French the son of the man whom I have loved the most of any one upon earth. My opinions are well known in France. They are in harmony with those of the Nation. If you enter France with me, and a tri‑color scarf, you will be received there as the son of Napoleon."8

When he heard of the serious illness of Napoleon's son, the Duke of Reichstadt, or the King of Rome, Joseph left his home in New Jersey and sailed for England. There he learned the sad tidings that the King of Rome had died on the 22nd of July, 1832, aged 21. Joseph was joined in England by his two brothers, Lucien and Jerome, and his nephew, Louis Napoleon. It was while Joseph was in England that Louis Napoleon made his ill‑starred attempt at Strasbourg. In 1837, Joseph returned to Bordentown where he resided until 1839, when he returned to England. In 1841 he was permitted to take up his residence in Genoa, being p106conveyed thither by an English ship. After a brief stay at Genoa, he joined his wife and children at Florence. There, tenderly cherished and nursed by Queen Julie and his brothers, Louis and Jerome, Joseph died, July 28, 1844, aged 76 years.

At St. Helena, Napoleon once thus summed up the character of his brother Joseph: "Joseph rendered me no assistance, but he is a very good man. His wife, Queen Julie, is the most amiable creature that ever existed. Joseph and I were always attached to each other and kept on very good terms. He loves me sincerely, and I doubt not that he would do everything in the world to serve me; but his qualities are only suited to private life. He is of a gentle and kind disposition; possesses talent and information, and is altogether a very amiable man. In the discharge of the high duties which I confided to him he did the best he could. His intentions were good; and therefore, the principal fault rested not so much with him as with me, who raised him above his proper sphere. When placed in important circumstances he found his strength unequal to the task imposed on him."9

In a letter which he wrote to his brother Louis, Joseph, seeking to comfort him, said this: "It is necessary then for us to perceive what we are in this life, and not what we could wish to be. Being men, we are destined to live, that is to say, to suffer. But we can preserve our own self-respect and the esteem of the friends who appreciate us. So long as that continues, one is not absolutely p107unhappy." Taught by adversity, Joseph had cut over the pavilion on his Bordentown estate this Latin motto, the words of Dido to Aeneas — "Non ignara Mali, Miseris Succurrere Disco," or, "Familiar with misfortune, I have learned to help the wretched."

Joseph had with him at Bordentown his two daughters, Zenaide and Charlotte. Charlotte, the younger, married her cousin Napoleon Louis, the second son of Louis Bonaparte, and the brother of Napoleon III. Zenaide married Charles Lucien, son of her father's brother, Lucien Bonaparte. Lucien Bonaparte was often spoken of as the ablest of the Emperor's brothers. His first wife was Catherine Boyer, daughter of an inn‑keeper. His second wife was Marie de Bleschamps, the divorced wife of a Paris stock broker with whom he had already been living before their marriage. This marriage enraged the Emperor, as we know, and Lucien was barred from the succession and quit France. In 1811 Lucien set sail for the United States, but his ship was captured by a British cruiser and he was taken first to Malta and then to England. Lucien was reconciled to Napoleon during the Hundred Days. After Waterloo he took up his residence in Italy, where he died June 27, 1840. The British government had refused his request that he be permitted to go to St. Helena and reside there with his brother, the Emperor.10 Pierre Napoleon, Lucien's son by his second wife, and his brother Louis p108Lucien, both fell in love with a beautiful peasant girl while hunting in the Corsican mountains. At an inn they gambled as to which one should possess her. Pierre lost and went to America to forget his sorrows. He spent some time at Bordentown with his Uncle Joseph.

Pierre was in New York at the same time that his cousin, Louis Napoleon, was there, and when Louis Napoleon had become Emperor, many of the excesses and escapades of the depraved and dissipated Pierre were attributed to him. In 1870, Pierre Bonaparte shot a journalist, Victor Noir. The trial and subsequent acquittal occasioned great excitement in France.

Lucien Bonaparte's eldest zon, Charles Lucien, who married Joseph's daughter Zenaide, attained a high reputation as an ornithologist. He lived with Joseph at Bordentown from 1822 to 1828. It was in the forests of his uncle's estate at Point Breeze that he began to study American birds. This led to the publication of his "Ornithology of American Birds." It was published as a continuation of the great work of the Scottish-American ornithologist, Alexander Wilson. Charles Lucien Bonaparte befriended Audubon and introduced him in 1824 to the Academy of Natural Sciences at Philadelphia. He was one of the first subscribers to Audubon's celebrated work, "The Birds of America."


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The Present "Point Breeze"
The Manor House at "Bonaparte Park"

(Photo by Mattie Edwards Hewitt, N. Y.)

When Napoleon abdicated in 1814, Joseph retired to Switzerland, where he purchased an estate, Prangins Castle, at Nyons. Called back to Paris during the Hundred Days, Joseph and his secretary Louis Mailliard, before leaving Prangins, buried all his jewels in an iron box in a corner of the estate. After Waterloo p109Joseph, of course, had no opportunity to recover his treasure. But in 1817 Louis Mailliard, armed with papers from Stephen Girard, which made it appear that he was transacting business for him, went from Bordentown to Europe in one of Girard's ships. When he reached Prangins he passed himself off as an English coal speculator who wished to prospect for a coal mine on the estate. With a few workmen he dug a hole where the treasure had been buried. After the workmen had gone home, Mailliard returned in the darkness with one companion and recovered the iron box. In due time the casket with its jewels, chiefly diamonds, was safe in Joseph's mansion at Bordentown. The stones were worth close to five million francs. Louis Mailliard's son, Adolph, settled at San Rafael, California, in 1867.

It was at Bordentown that Joseph received word of the death of Napoleon at St. Helena in May, 1821. Joseph tenderly loved the Emperor and was much moved by the tidings of his death. He received a noble and touching letter from General Bertrand giving an account of the last days of Napoleon. In an autobiographic passage written at Point Breeze, Joseph said: "Having attained a somewhat advanced age and enjoyed good health, disabused of many of the illusions which enabled me to bear the storms of life, and replacing those illusions by that tranquility of soul which results from a good conscience and from the security which is afforded by a country admirably constituted, I regard myself as having reached the port. Before disembarking upon the shores of eternity I wish to render an account of myself of the long voyage.

p110 "I venture to affirm that it is the love of truth which leads me to undertake this writing. It is a sentiment of justice which I owe to the man who was my friend, and whom human feebleness had disfigured in a manner so unworthy. Napoleon was, above all, a friend of the people, and he was a just and good man, even more than he was a great warrior and administrator. It is my duty as his elder brother, and one who has not always shared in his political opinions, to speak of that which I profoundly cherish."

Such, then, is the story of Joseph and Bordentown. Exactly a hundred years have passed since Joseph left his New Jersey home for the last time. In those hundred years Joseph has shrunk in stature, while his brother Napoleon grows taller and taller. The name of Joseph Bonaparte lives on only because the echo of the Emperor's name becomes greater and greater. The lordly Delaware still rolls seaward, flowing silently away like the river of a man's life, and passing as it flows the fields and forests where the friends and worshippers of the Emperor built their homes and sang the songs of France. But the place that once knew them now knows them no more forever.


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"Bonaparte Park" — Garden and Grounds
A pool, aging trees, a sun-dial, and flagged walks are hall-marks of beauty near Joseph's old home

(Photo by Mattie Edwards Hewitt, N. Y.)


The Authors' Notes:

1 Abbot, Joseph Bonaparte, p24. Harper & Bros., N. Y. 1869.

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2 F. Marion Crawford, Joseph Bonaparte in Bordentown, Century Magazine, May, 1893.

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3 Wilson, Life and Letters of Fitz-Greene Halleck. D. Appleton & Co., N. Y. 1869.

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4 Abbot, Joseph Bonaparte, p334. Harper & Bros., N. Y. 1869.

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5 Harper's Magazine, v. 131, p813.

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6 Abbot, Joseph Bonaparte, p342. Harper & Bros., N. Y. 1869.

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7 Abbot, Joseph Bonaparte, p342. Harper & Bros., N. Y. 1869.

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8 Abbot, Joseph Bonaparte, p357.

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9 Las Cases, Napoleon. Eckler, N. Y. 1900.

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10 One of Lucien's daughters, Princess Laetitia, at the age of sixteen married Sir Thomas Wyse of Waterford, Ireland. One of their five sons was Lucien-Napoleon Bonaparte-Wyse, who, with officers of the French Navy and Army, secured from the Government of Colombia, in 1878, a concession giving him the right to build a canal and a railroad at Panama from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He afterwards transferred this concession to Ferdinand de Lesseps.


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Page updated: 26 Feb 13